The Gravity of Glad Sacrifices

The following notes are from the address Mr. Higgins gave at the recent Fundraising Feast.


Oxford defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.” Isaac Newton calculated the movements of planets based on their masses and the distance between their centers. Albert Einstein argued his theory of general relativity that the curvature of spacetime accounts for the direction and momentum of free-falling objects. Scientists have measured gravity grasping objects toward the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. These all involve observations and formulas and theories, and maybe a stopwatch, but none of them demonstrate what gravity does better than dropping a bowling ball out of a three story window.

Evangel Classical School is not large but, by God’s grace, we have a little bit of gravitational attraction. This isn’t scientific or philosophical speculation, it is something that can be seen. It is also a reason to give thanks to God and something to ask God to bless even more.

The journal app I use recently showed me an “On This Day” entry from four days before our school’s first Information Night in April of 2012. I had written the following:

With just a few days to go before the announcement meeting for ECS, a fall start with our current plans seems less likely than ever. There are only a few families who seem excited about the idea, and even fewer who seem committed to the work it requires.

Five years later ECS has almost 60 students, a modest number for sure, yet that is close to a 500% increase from the 12 we had day one, and it’s manifestly more than none. We have a headmaster, three full-time teachers, and a troop of part-timers. We have textbooks and literature books and hula-hoops and footballs and tables and chairs and whiteboards as well, but those things are only as weighty as the people who wield them. Our people give the school gravity, and the gravity is growing.

There are other words for it, too: energy, buzz, traction, momentum. But I prefer the image of gravity, where mass and energy become an attractive force.

You’ve seen it at work before. Some individuals have a personal gravity; they can’t help but draw a crowd. Organizations can have gravity. There is a kind of pull that not only works to increase the numbers, it also works to change the attitude of the group itself.

In one of my classes this year I noticed a crippling lack of interest and effort from most of the students. Teaching felt like sweeping water uphill with a broom without bristles. But more than a month ago one of the students started to work. Her parents had come alongside of her and encouraged her, and she took to it. In just a couple days of class, her eager participation and obvious effort turned the tone of the entire class around. She didn’t stand up on her chair and exhort the other students to get with it. As far as I know she didn’t track them down between classes and threaten them if they didn’t work harder. She changed the culture of the classroom by her happy diligence. That’s gravity.

The whole school has a type of gravity to it. Not everyone is won by the gravity, but many are.

We start every morning of school at school with Matins. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say the Apostles’ Creed, and we sing a song from the Cantus. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through the entire 5-7 minute mini-meeting and keep a good grip on my grumpiness. I’m reminded that I’m a part of a group of 70ish people—students and staff and some of the parents who are still around at that point—who are committed to loving our neighbors as we express our belief in and love for God. Mr. Sarr is always ready to lead us joyfully, and that joy of being together and getting ready to work for the Lord pulls us further up and further in. That’s gravity.

It is a question we ask when considering whether or not to accept a new student. If the student (and his family) are not quite aligned with us, but still interested, do we have enough gravity to pull them in, or will they knock us off track?

We’ve seen a phenomenon with our end of year evaluation tests. We give spelling tests that include words a grade level or two above where the students are to see if they can take their understanding of phonograms and other rules they’ve learned to make educated guesses. There are two types of students: those who get upset, if not break down in tears, because they don’t know, and those who know that they don’t know but are totally up for the challenge. The ones who are up for the challenge—which is different than knowing how to spell everything correctly—are consistently the students who’ve been at ECS for more than a year, who’ve seen others around them joyfully trying things they might not succeed at. That’s gravity.

What is it that causes this kind of cultural gravity to grow? What is happening at ECS that God is blessing?

Jesus told His disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), which was a reference to the kind of death he was going to die (verse 33). The cross was the purchase point of salvation, it is also the sun around which the eternal life of every believer revolves. And the author of Hebrews said about Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His life wasn’t taken, He spent it without resentment. I think we could summarize the principle as follows: by God’s grace there is great gravity around glad sacrifice.

Both the glad and the sacrifice are required. Gladness without sacrifice may still be gladness, but it will probably be light. Dandelion seeds are playful in the breeze, but not much of a draw. Sacrifice without gladness may still have an effect, but it’s demanding, or done with a heavy stink. This is the Thanksgiving hostess terrorist, holding her guests hostage until they see and acknowledge all the work she did. Who wants to be around that? Who can sustain sacrifices like that? None is attracted to this, no, not one.

Glad sacrifices are a product and picture of the gospel, this is the Evangel.

We pray for God’s Spirit to make us glad in giving up our lives and He has given great grace for this so far. Mr. Sarr sets the mead hall tone that makes Grendel’s mom mad, the Board is on board the joy train, the teachers embody the war of laughter day by day, especially those on the “Full Time Team.” Mr. Bowers makes science lovers in one hour a week because he loves biomes (and everything else in creation). Mrs. Hall never walks a lap around the parking lot—and she makes a lot of laps—alone. Mrs. Bowers collects kindergartners around her desk and contrarians around her discussion. Because we live in the world God made, the world God loved so much that He gave His Son for, those who make glad sacrifices can’t help but draw others in. It doesn’t draw everyone in, but it is picking up size and speed.

You can be part of it. You can gladly sacrifice with us and make the ECS gravity a pull to Marysville: from some who are already in it, for some to come to it. You can gladly sacrifice your words, telling others about the school. No Facebook boosted post can do what you can. You can gladly sacrifice your minutes, coming in to volunteer in a variety of ways, using your gifts to serve the students. You can gladly sacrifice your dollars.

We hope to add 18 students to our total number for next year. This would enable us to hire (and pay) another full-time teacher. Why not two more, or three? The people are the most important piece of the gravity, but how great would it also be to have a playground, a field, facilities that show off what we’re doing? We can’t do that yet, and that’s fine, but you could help us get to a spot where others want in. That’s gravity that comes from glad sacrifice.

If it seems too smug to talk about our not-quite-five-year old gravity status, as if we’re the Pluto of wanna-be planets, I’d say these things. First, we’re not too smug to quit working. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote,

[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

We know we must excel still more in laughing and laboring. Second, we’re not too smug to invite others such as yourselves to join us or to ask you to help. That’s part of why we’re here tonight.

And third, we’re not too smug to feast in thanks to God. That’s the other reason for this evening.

Great gravity sustained through generations won’t happen without God’s blessing, and it will be God’s blessing, proportional to our glad sacrifices.

The Nuts and Bolts of Education

These are notes from my talk about the Trivium at last week’s Information Night.


One of the best things about the daily nuts and bolts at our school is that we have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. I don’t start this way to get a laugh or to cause a shock. Gender specific facilities are important for modesty—though that’s not my primary reason for mentioning it. They are important for morality—though sin doesn’t depend on any given door being closed.

I bring up the distinction between male and female because we cannot have true learning or lasting culture without it.

Of course we couldn’t have following generations without male and female because humanity requires sexes in order to reproduce. Efforts to deny observable biology are efforts that destroy not only individuals, but also the future where any individuals could exist.

But I bring up male and female because God created and identified us that way.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

This means that part of bearing God’s image is being social, a reflection of the “us” and “our” in verse 26. We are made in the likeness of the Triune God. This also means that both males and females are equally image-bearers. They are different, so they receive different names and different responsibilities, but neither man or woman is more like God than the other.

It also assumes that our image-bearing relations and image-bearing responsibilities require us to acknowledge what God has made and what God has said. Boys and girls share some things yet they do not share all things, nor are they interchangeable. To deny or even to confuse this truth is to deny or confuse any possible foundation for learning.

After the poetic, lyrical celebration of male and female in Genesis 1:27 (if our culture succeeds at obliterating the distinction, what kind of songs will we be left with?), God gave a mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

We must must receive the definitions and boundaries created by God. What are animals? What kinds are there? What are we supposed to do with them? What is dominion? What can we subdue? What are we going to eat (see verse 29)? These are necessary questions, but if we won’t accept the created realities of male and female, realities that are self-evident and Spirit-revealed, how can we be trusted with anything?

A classical Christian education begins with basic facts like these. It is called the Grammar stage of the Trivium (which means “three ways”), and it acknowledges that every subject of study has created realities or historical realities or revealed realities. We are not trying to rewrite or redefine. We’re receiving what God has made, what God has done, what God has said.

Birds and fish and bugs, planets, and plants are all different, as are the letters and phonograms of the alphabet. Numbers classify and quantify objects and ideas, narratives show truth in a different way. These are particulars to be acquired.

The school board is reading a book by Gresham Machen, Education Christianity and the State, and he lamented that so many school systems (in 1925!) want kids to be thinkers but the teachers don’t give them anything to think about. “It is impossible to think with an empty mind” (p 7). No facts and no figures because they aren’t fun. There is no est, only non est.

[Such a student can] not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. (p 4)

New things are collected all the time at every stage, but collection is the special focus of our Grammar School. The youngest students delight to soak in dates and names and conjugations by song and chant and sound-off and reading. They learn about the sun and moon, right and left, right and wrong–in math and morals. They are taught definitions about masculine and feminine, without which they cannot decline any Latin nouns.

The second stage is the Dialectic or Logic stage. The emphasis during these years, roughly corresponding to Junior High, is less on collection and more on categorizing, less on soaking in and more on sorting out. Students are taught formal logic, learning what constitutes an argument, what is valid, what is sound, and what is empty or false.

In her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers tipped her hand:

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.

During this time students are systematically exposed to various ideas and worldviews, especially through the classical works of ancient, medieval, and even some modern literature. They’re learning to see what fits and what is false. They are able not only to distinguish between male and female but also to develop convictions about it.

The third stage is known as the Rhetoric stage. While students are always answering or writing or performing, the emphasis of this stage happens in the last few years of high school. Students learn things to think, how to think things through, and then how to express their thoughts in speeches and papers.

This is a time not just to know the truth or to defend the truth but to adorn the truth. Even as male and female, men and women ought to be adorned differently. We not only recognize a difference between genders for sake of bathrooms and uniforms, but even in what we want them to become. Both our young women and our young men should be well educated, both bearing the glory of God’s image, and both expressing things that the other can’t and shouldn’t even try to do.

The classical model values the Trivium as scaffolding for the building. The blueprint itself comes from God’s Word. He has said, He has given, He has created, so we give thanks and receive and study and steward. The Trivium helps teachers cut with the grain as students are generally suited to soak in and sort out and speak up as they mature.

  • Grammar – learn the good; know and enjoy things (res) as they are. Collect and comprehend.
  • Logic – identify and distinguish the good from the bad; account for things, put things together. Consolidate and cultivate convictions.
  • Rhetoric – fight for and persuade others to love the good. Consecrate ourselves, our talents and knowledge for letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Google may be able to marshal facts, but it can’t train a student in logic or rhetoric. Without grammar logic falls and rhetoric is vacant. We’re educating our students with all three.

We start by acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, and then acknowledging our identity and created definitions by God. Otherwise learning collapses in a heap of inconsistent relativities and society ceases because no one even knows what male and female are, let alone which bathroom they should use.

Mr. Higgins

Making a Contribution

I gave the following address at our Convocation on the first day of school.


I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.

“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.

screenshot

Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.

However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.

As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.

You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:

[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.

ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.

Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.

Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.

It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.

But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.

One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

A Political Act

1984A happy marriage is a political act. (Note: the adjective is key in the previous sentence.) George Orwell meant as much in his dystopian novel, 1984, which the Omnibus class has been reading the last couple weeks. The totalitarian State prohibited–to the degree that they could–passionate marriages and sexual pleasure. Orwell’s main characters couldn’t vote for change but they could defy Big Brother by their adultery.

Their motivation, however, was strictly rebellion. Just do what you’re not allowed do to to stick it to the Man. Then you’re truly free. But in opposing bondage to the State Winston and Julia chose another bondage, the bondage of sin. They could not liberate themselves by their defiance, let alone anyone else, less because the government was so powerful and more because they chose to believe a different set of entangling lies.

Their misunderstanding, and Orwell’s himself, doesn’t change that the committed life of one man with one woman and their honoring the marriage bed is indeed a political act. It makes a statement to both neighbors and the nation. Such union is an embodied claim that says the president and politicians and police do not have the authority to make or break marriage however they desire. A male and female in covenant one-fleshedness are enfleshing theology. Husband and wife, then father and mother, are God-instituted relationships for the glory of the human race. This is a political act in that it declares that God is God, not the state. God is the lawgiver and not the people themselves or the lobby groups or big donors or liberal judges sitting on courtroom benches.

God instituted marriage as an incarnational reflection of His own Trinitarian, eternal relations as well as an illustration of the union between His Son and His Son’s Bride, the Church. How we love our wives, respect our husbands, raise our children, none of these are invisible, let alone hopeless acts. Through them we pledge our allegiance to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Thankfulness and the Trivium

The following remarks were presented at our recent Information Night for prospective families.


What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.

The Door

I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.


This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.

Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.

The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.

Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?

I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.

I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?

It’s that one.1door

“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.

The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.

G.K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)

This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.

In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,

A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)

The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.

When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)

He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that

says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)

The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)

God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.

You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?

May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.


  1. Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit.

A Good Egg

I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.


wheat fieldphoto from mirianda

It’s been said that a man shouldn’t put all his eggs in one basket. That assumes, really, that all your eggs are of equal value. Putting a bunch of unremarkable eggs into a bunch of baskets diversifies a portfolio of unremarkable investments.

But what if you found the egg? What if you found the treasure of all eggs? What would you do to secure it for yourself? How much would you be willing to spend to make it yours? Would you still prefer multiple baskets of low-budget eggs rather than owning one of ultimate value?

Once upon a time a young man was working in a field. As he drove his ox into a far corner one summer afternoon, the plow hit something hard. He didn’t find an egg, he found a nest egg. He unearthed years of dirt from a box full of some families’ future, buried by them long ago to protect their fortune. He could hardly believe it. Here was treasure enough for generations. He quickly recovered the trunk and ran for home.

Early the next morning he pursued the purchase of the entire field. The asking price was a number too large to fit in his financial books. What would he do?

Jesus told a one-verse-long version of this story that Matthew recorded for us.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44, ESV)

Different sources provide conflicting positions, but it seems that the law usually gave ownership to the finder. In this situation, however, the finder may have been an employee of the landowner. He may have been concerned that his boss, the owner of the field, would also claim ownership of the treasure. In order to close every loophole and leave no legal doubt, the finder sold everything he had in order to buy the field.

He had to liquidate his assets, which must have taken some time. As the days passed and others watched him sell off all his possessions, I wonder if anyone counseled him against it, or if anyone else criticized his foolishness. To most it must have appeared that he had no idea what he was doing, though it was their evaluation that was uniformed. The investment demanded everything and yet what he gave up was nothing compared to what he got in return.

Likewise, when the true treasure of the kingdom of heaven is found, that value surpasses the price of any sacrifice. Turns out that not all eggs are of equal value.

Classical Christian education is not the same thing as the kingdom of heaven, but it is part of it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t only a personal relationship with Jesus, it is new life in a new community under new management. At Evangel Classical School we are trying to enculturate (pass on a culture) at each stage of our student’s development so that they can love the King, serve the King, and represent the King in everything they do. His kingdom is everywhere. Jesus rules over more than Bible class and personal quiet times. He owns everything. He has vested interest in how we work, create, dress, play, sing, and sweat. He cares about how we interact with our neighbors and with other nations. Everything in life takes its cue from who is King.

Much has been made in the church about worship wars, fights among Christians about song styles on Sunday mornings. Much has also been made by the church about culture wars, fights with non-Christians about what is acceptable, the morals our society is supposed to agree to abide by. But really, all of it is a worship war and every school is a worship center.

G.K. Chesterton summed it up simply:

We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not; it alters or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves everything we say or do, whether we like it or not. (Heretics, 132)

In our inescapable “general view of existence,” what God will be recognized? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, English, art? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, Humanism? Or the Lord Jesus Christ? Who gets the worship?

The treasure is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven involves life in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ. Purchasing the field isn’t referring to the price of salvation but rather about the cost of discipleship. That discipleship affects every facet of our lives: how we vote, how we write poetry, how we tell stories, how we relate.

The government schools want to define the treasure and regulate how we walk in the field and police what height we bolt our drinking fountains to the wall. They tell us that the treasure is naturalism; science and technology and opposable thumbs answer all of life’s questions. Other education experts say that there is no treasure, or that everyone’s treasure is the same. And whatever you do, please don’t use red pen to mark wrong answers. It might hurt someone’s feelings.

But we Christians know the Creator of the stuff, and it is wrong not to acknowledge Him all the time. We know the God who makes and sustains and liberates. We know the One in whom all things hold together, the One who gives meaning to flesh and blood life on earth. Knowing Him and living in His kingdom is treasure.

The work is not first about educating our kids, or changing our country, but honoring our King. It costs us everything we have. And we don’t know how good we have it.

The school is like an owner’s group with families of believers pooling their resources to buy-in together to get the treasure. The treasure is the kingdom of heaven, and we want that glad worldview that sees everything under the good rule of our King.

This is what we’re doing week after week at ECS. The treasure is worth it. It is a joy to pursue it, but the field costs more than we can afford. The treasure (again, living consciously as the King’s servants and stewards) will shape generations. It will pay for itself, but not immediately and not necessarily in dollars. While trying to keep tuition as affordable as possible for as many as possible, we have asked our teachers–especially our part-time teachers–to work for little pay, though hopefully great reward. Each teacher and parent is giving what he or she has for sake of the treasure.

Time, tears, training, jump ropes, prayers, reading, more reading, more tears, and dollars, are going into this purchase. Would you consider helping us? This is a treasure for you, too. This treasure will serve children and parents and grandchildren and grandparents and neighbors and churches and business owners and mayors and more for years. Again, we could use your help.

Don’t take tonight’s word for it. Come and visit. Pick up some books on what it is exactly that we’re trying to put into place, the part of the treasure we’re referring to. Do all the above and then consider a monetary investment so that we can share the treasure with more families, so that we can get the field in order.

This is–when we can catch our breath for a second–our joy. It is the point of the parable (as well as the point of the pearl of greatest price next door in verses 45-46): when you find what is most valuable, giving up everything is gladness to get it. Discipleship in the kingdom of heaven is worth all our lives.

Unlike the parable, we aren’t concealing the treasure, we’re advertising it. We aren’t keeping the treasure for ourselves, we want more people to have it. This isn’t an individual betterment, it is for the community.

We are not asking for you to give so that we won’t have to. It is our joy to sell what we have to buy the field. So again, we are not asking you to fund in our place, we are asking you to join us in the joy. This is one egg that’s worth it.

Go for It!

The following post is the convocation address from Tuesday afternoon.


Or, Changing the World from a Basement, Part Two1

Today begins our second year of Evangel Classical School. We meet in a new location, a location that, we can be thankful, still falls under Christ’s lordship, seeing that He claims every square inch everywhere. The site is different but our goal remains the same: to fight the serpent, to fight our sin, and to change the world as image-bearers of Christ. This giant goal may be too tall or too far away from us, but we continue where we left off last June. We start year number two in basement number two.

On this first day we convoke the Raggants. Convoke or convocation comes from two Latin words, con – “together” and vocare – “to call.” We call together each worshiping-warrior in order to ask God to bless our work. Each student, parent, teacher, and board member sees a relentless stack of work ahead and needs God’s strength. At this convocation we dedicate each book and lesson plan and white board and soccer ball to God’s glory. We pray that He would make our labor fruitful, maybe even fun. We don’t do it because of tradition; two years of first days does not a heritage make. We don’t do it as a formal sacrifice, as if wearing our dress uniforms forces God’s hand. We do it both to remember and to rejoice that no part of our school could exist apart from God. We say it and we really mean it.

Solomon grounds this educational undertaking on a key pedagogical insight (found in Proverbs 2:6).

For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Note the three words: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. These terms cover the wisdom books of the Old Testament just like wet grass soaks a boy’s shoes. Though they belong together and depend on each other, they can be distinguished. As a school we pursue all three, and now is a good time for us to consider why we need God for all of them.

Knowledge refers to the facts, to the data, the nuts and bolts, the ABCs. The knowledge of geography includes the names of cities and countries, locations of lakes and oceans and mountains, and their latitude and longitude on a globe. The knowledge of science includes birds and bugs, vertebrates and volcanoes. The knowledge of music includes the lyrics, the notes, the time, the tune.

No bit of knowledge exists without God because He created all things. 2 follows 1 when we count because God made the world and gave it order. Rivers flow into oceans, ocean water evaporates into clouds, and clouds carry showers of rain blessings back over us because it’s His business. He made the earth, put us on it, and gives us brains to collect what we see, hear, smell, and touch.

We stuff our student’s heads with knowledge, sometimes with knowledge that our younger students don’t fully understand. That’s okay because knowledge is true because God is true, and He understands. The knowledge of how to read, or knowledge gained from reading four thousand pages, or singing history timelines and Latin verb paradigms, won’t just evaporate some day because God is. All knowledge comes from God.

As students get older we work to develop understanding. It’s not enough to know things if you can’t tell how those things fit together, or don’t, or explode when you try. Understanding is the ability to connect and distinguish. Understanding sorts things into piles of good and bad, right and unrighteous, beautiful and meaningless.

All understanding, like the knowledge it counts on, comes from God. The only way to know good is to know the standard of good. Many schools look to the government for that standard, or at least a Congressional Subcommittee. We know that God gives understanding because He is the ultimate judge, the eternal being with perfect taste, and He sets the scales out on the table for us to use.

Our older students must seek God as they seek to learn logic, as they begin to debate and argue and find the acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Acceptable why? Who says? All of this depends on God. From His mouth comes understanding.

This leads to the third term, the most mature stage: wisdom. Wisdom does more than rehearse details and win debates. Wisdom lives the right way. A wise man puts feet to the facts, he adds sweetness to his speech. A wise man refreshes others around him. He doesn’t only know about how the cardiovascular system functions, he knows how to live loving God with all his heart.

Wisdom, true grasp of the principles, priorities, and practice of life, is not conferred because you finish a book or a class or a year of school. Those may be part of the process, but “the LORD gives wisdom.” Wise men depend on God; only men who worship God are wise. So the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). ECS is not about graduating smart students who simply know more. We desire to know more to understand better to walk in wisdom. Each stage orbits around God. Without God there are no sentences, no science, no sense, and there is no reason for school.

These three make a trivium trifecta, and we wage supernatural war by them. The serpent, Satan, would have us doubt God’s facts, abuse or at least be confused over what God says is good, and trash our opportunities to represent God’s glory.

So we begin this school year seeking His help and strength and favor. Education only happens by Him. And, Solomon says, it requires our work.

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

Receive, treasure, make attentive, incline your heart, call out, raise your voice, seek and search…then God will give it to you. You’ve got to go for it. If you don’t pursue God and go for wisdom then you will fall into foolishness. On this first day we gather to recognize our need for God and to ask His blessing. We also call you–students and parents and teachers–to give yourselves to the work.

Fear God, work hard, and He will make our year fruitful in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.


  1. Last year’s convocation address referred to our meeting space as “our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.”

No Lines

The following exhortation was given at the assembly on February 7, 2013. You could also watch our grammar students share their Bird Sound-off.

One of the greatest challenges to me so far this school year has been figuring out how to grade K-2 coloring. I am not an arteest myself nor have I spent many years informing my expectations surrounding a seven year old’s coloring potential. Should grades be based on effort or outcome? If effort, how is that determined? Is effort counted by beads of sweat on their forehead? Is effort decided by how short the stub of crayon becomes? Or, if based on outcome, what should be the standard? Likeness to real-life? Uniqueness? Staying inside the lines?

These are good questions but they depend on so many assumptions. In particular, they all assume the existence of lines. What if there were no lines? How would a student know if he stayed in them? How would we even know what the picture was?

I don’t ask this as an extra-crispy philosophical question to bend our minds on a tired afternoon. (My point here is not, “There is no spoon.”). I mean it as a threshold into thankfulness. Let me come at it a different way.

In our Omnibus class we recently read three Theban plays by Sophocles. No one really gets to be happy in these tragedies, at least not for long. As our textbook pointed out, the reason the characters are so miserable is because their gods are unpredictable and uncaring. The gods of the ancient nations (and, for that matter, the gods of unbelievers today) cannot be trusted. They do not communicate clearly and they do not have anyone’s interests at heart except their own.

Sophocles’ protagonist, Oedipis, spends his days trying to do right but he is too ignorant and too outnumbered to defeat the gods. They are against him and will keep him from winning. At one point in the story Oedipis even gouges out his own eyes as a form of self-inflicted punishment. But nothing works and he finds no hope at all. He doesn’t know what to do, what is required of him, how to please the gods, or how to get out of his mess. In other words, he was trying to color a picture with no lines.

Christians simply must not take for granted how good we have it. This is part of the reason why our school is called Evangel Classical School. Evangel — a Greek to Latin to English word — means “good news.” Evangel is the gospel and it makes all the difference.

The gospel starts with God, the one and Triune God who created all things, including men. God revealed Himself to His creatures and gave them a standard, His law. Think about God’s initiation and clarity and kindness. He gave us lines, knowable and followable.

Carl Henry wrote in his work, God, Revelation, and Authority, that God gave up His privacy to give us Himself. Henry’s first thesis was:

Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. (Vol 2, 17)

There are things that are mysterious, yes. (Henry’s third thesis was: “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.”) There are things that are beyond us; God didn’t make us little gods. But He did make us to know Him, to learn about Him in creation (“The heavens declare the glory of God” – Psalm 19:1), to learn about Him in how He made us, to learn about Him in history, and to learn about Him in His Incarnation (“in [Christ] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” – Colossians 1:19, the Word made flesh “has made Him known” – John 1:18). He wrote down the lines for us.

Tragically we didn’t follow the lines. Adam disobeyed but, even then, God didn’t run away into privacy and plan how to ruin us. He gave promises of a Savior, of a sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our failure to follow.

This is the evangel, the gospel, the good news. It is hidden from the proud but the humble can know the truth and can know how to have eternal life. We can know God. We can know what He is like. We can know what He expects.

Evangel acknowledges that man’s greatest problem is sin, not ignorance, and that salvation comes through Christ, not education. Any education that does not deal with a man’s soul, with his moral darkness, and hostility to the Lordship of Christ cannot properly be called an education. Education also cannot compensate for a man’s lack of righteousness before God. Sin affects man’s ability to think and perceive truth. Without the gospel, he cannot know the truth. Every man needs to trust and follow Christ.

Evangel Classical School exists because of these lines. ECS depends on the revelation of God as a just and merciful God. As Henry wrote,

Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator…. (Vol 2, 30)

God is sharing His own life of joy with us. He invites us in to participate in joy inexpressible and full of glory now while also preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. He is not working against us and trying to keep us from attaining lasting happiness. He told us about it, paid and paved the way for us, and sent His own Spirit to dwell in us and strengthen us so that we’re sure to get there.

Evangel acknowledges what is “the power of God” to save the world. We desire nothing less than the transformation of men as those who have been resurrected to new life, declared righteous and being made more like Christ by faith. These gospel-made living sacrifices will not be conformed to this world but will necessarily challenge the gods of this age. We do our work as worship of the One who made all things and in whom all things hold together. We learn and sing and write and rope-swing as those who know the Savior, who hope in the transforming power of the Gospel.

It’s no wonder that Paul called the evangel of “first importance,” namely, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This gospel we have “received,” we didn’t imagine it. In this gospel we “stand,” it is our foundation and support. And in this gospel we “are being saved.” It is the hope of our lives (see also 1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

The evangel changes persons and peoples. Perhaps the reason we see so little transformation in our culture is because we have so little gospel. By faith, we at Evangel Classical School will not be ashamed, we will be thankful for the lines God has revealed and confident in the Lord of our lives.